Strategies & Tools for Volunteer Programs of All Sizes

Behind any team of volunteers are strategies and tools that help keep things running smoothly on a daily basis. Volunteer coordinators have a lot on their plates already, which is why tools and strategies can be so valuable; they streamline the complicated and organize the disorderly. With the right tools, volunteer coordinators can save time, keep their volunteers happy, and even grow their volunteer base. Take a look at our list of resources that volunteer programs of all sizes could use to stay coordinated.

Small volunteer programs (little to no budget, a few volunteers):

If your program only has a handful of volunteers, you will likely be able to manage them all with a simple set of tools and strategies. Priorities include easy communication, team accountability, and vision.

Strategies:

  • Weekly meetings: with small teams, it is more feasible to block off a time in everyone’s calendar for a team meeting. These meetings ensure that the team is moving forward in-step with each other, feeling positive about the time they’re contributing to the organization, and have a close connection with leadership.
  • Goal-setting: in a smaller team, more responsibility falls on each volunteer’s shoulders. It can be easy to get carried away in the day-to-day work and lose sight of bigger, long-term goals. Establish a practice of goal-setting (and check-ins) to better ensure progress on important initiatives.

Tools:

  • Google Forms: This is a free tool that can be used in a variety of ways. Use it to report monthly progress, accept new volunteer applications, or even propose new projects for the team.
  • Google Drive: Another free resource! Share documents, spreadsheets, and presentations with your team, all in one shared workspace.
  • GroupMe: You can use this free app as a way to quickly text your group of volunteers. This app is most effective with small teams.

Medium volunteer programs (limited budget, >20 regular volunteers)

Strategies:

  • Track Hours: Medium and large sized volunteer programs benefit greatly from tracking hours. For nonprofit organizations especially, these hours can earn your organization donations, grants, and community recognition (which can lead to more support).
  • Volunteer Orientations: At this level, it becomes more difficult to have a close relationship with each volunteer individually. Therefore, it’s important to introduce volunteer orientations or “welcome sessions” in order to introduce yourself, share any needed information, and set the right tone.
  • Volunteer Check-Ins: schedule 15-minute check-ins with as many volunteers as possible. Grow a connection with each volunteer, and learn what they are enjoining (or not enjoying) about their position. This is an investment in long-lasting, quality volunteer relationships. Check-ins can be on the phone, on Zoom, or in person.

Tools:

  • Trello: This free web tool allows teams to track progress on collaborative projects, assign deadlines, and trigger email notifications. For volunteer coordinators, this is a great way to monitor progress from a bird’s eye view.
  • Slack: This is a channel that allows co-workers to communicate throughout the day, facilitating virtual co-working. Use “channels” to organize group communications by topic.
  • Zoom: This is another free tool that facilitates virtual 1:1 and group meetings.
  • Email Marketing: There are many free and paid tools for email marketing, such as MailChimp and MailerLite. Keep in touch with volunteers with announcements, accomplishments, and calls for community support.
  • VolunteerLocal: (We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention!) Seamlessly schedule volunteers, send out regular email and text communications, track hours, and pull customized reports on your volunteer base. This is an easy, powerful tool for volunteer scheduling and management.

Large volunteer programs: (established budget, >150 regular volunteers)

Strategies:

  • Continuing to track hours and hold volunteer orientations.
  • Leadership Roles: It is much more difficult to maintain close relationships with individual volunteers when there are so many! Although this is a good problem to have, it is important that strong leadership and positive relationships with leadership are sustained. Consider delegating some leadership responsibilities to volunteers who have been serving for many years, or who are otherwise trusted.
  • Toss Out Pen and Paper: At this point, it is critical to move your volunteer management and organization online. If volunteer records and hours are only on paper, your program will be vulnerable to loss of information and inefficient systems.
  • Celebrate Volunteer Accomplishments: although this can (and should!) be done with programs of any size, it is particularly rewarding with large volunteer programs. Track volunteer impact and celebrate it together as a means to show gratitude for the work volunteers have accomplished. Ensure that volunteers feel appreciated for the work they do!

Tools:

  • Cloud Storage: You might use tools like OneDrive, Google Cloud, or DropBox to store all of your important documents online. This will help you better organize your information, find it more quickly, and reduce vulnerability to loss of information.
  • Volunteer Swag: Make a volunteer feel like part of the family by giving them a volunteer t-shirt (or other apparel), phone case, or gift somehow related to your organization.
  • VolunteerLocal: Again, our platform helps with volunteer management of teams of all sizes. At its core, VolunteerLocal supports volunteer scheduling, communication, tracking, and reporting. However, there are many other tools that assist large teams, such as: volunteer certificates, leader/captain access, credit card processing, and more. 

Of course, there are some strategies and tools you might gleam from various of these lists. What is important is that you find the right tools and strategies to suit you and your volunteers.

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Activate Volunteers Outside Your Event

As event organizers, producers, directors, etc., it is your job to observe and plan for all stages from beginning to middle and end. As you establish your checkpoints leading up to the event itself, it is crucial that you put this on your list: activate volunteers outside your event.

The urge and the philosophy behind this is one of thermodynamics: energy in equals energy out. This has to do with conservation. Simply put, the higher the note you start off with, the more you will be able to sustain that energy among your volunteers and create a positive, thriving environment. 

(Not to mention there is much to be done leading up to an event whether it is coordinating the volunteers themselves, stuffing packets, running errands, phone drives, or other logistical conundrums.)

Arrange for volunteer gatherings to help accomplish these tasks and more. Something like stuffing packets is ideal because it is the kind of work made light by many hands, and has an easy rhythm that allows for volunteers to talk, get to know each other, and even forge friendships. The mission will bring your volunteers in, but feelings of “togetherness” will keep them coming back.

Get them excited before the day of the event or a short time leading up to it with some kind of orientation, training or pep rally. Plan team-building exercises. This is a great way to build community while also ascertaining how certain people interact with each other. Who are the leaders in the group? The doers, the organizers, the observers? Work your magic to ensure that each volunteer is in the best position catered to their unique skills and interests. They will repay this effort ten-fold – when vision, values and strengths are aligned, purpose thrives.

A pre-celebration party or gathering is an incredibly festive way to begin any trial. Go as big or as small as your budget allows, but if someone threw you a party just for being there, wouldn’t you return next year, too?

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